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How to Unstick a Trumpet Valve

Updated on September 24, 2008

It never fails...

just when you've got your clothes all cleaned and pressed. Just when you've finally figured out the intricacies of your solo and you're starting to feel comfortable with the music...you pick up your instrument, put the mouthpiece to your lips and find....

a stuck valve.

Dangnabitall! Why? Why, why, why?!?!? Why now? Why you? Why....

Now that you've expressed your frustration (in terms that are probably a bit more colorful than those expressed here) and you've pulled the valve out only to have it stick again. And again. And again....take a deep breath. All is not lost.

Start simple

Hopefully you've still got a little while before you have to stand in front of the grateful masses (or your band director) and blow. So let's start from the bottom and work our way up.

When was the last time you oiled your valves? Or is it possible you've oiled them too much? Too much can be just as bad as not enough because eventually the oil gets sticky and then the valves don't want to work. And so you add more oil....see the cycle starting?

When it comes to oiling your valves, remember that a little bit goes a long way. Just a drop or two usually does the trick.

Okay...so oiling them didn't work.

You might want to try a good cleaning...remove all the valves (remember which came from what chamber), wipe them down with a lint-free cloth, remove the corks and the felts and wash them in warm...not hot...water. A little shampoo (very little) might help to cut the oil residue. Then shake them out firmly and set them to dry. Don't try to oil and install them again until they're thoroughly dry.

Meanwhile, wash the rest of the instrument by carefully removing the slides (again, remember where each came from) and submerging in a warm, slightly soapy (again, mild shampoo) tub of water. A bathtub works fine. Snake the instrument and the slide and then rinse thoroughly. Again, wipe with a lint-free cloth and make sure the instrument is thoroughly dry before re-assembling it.

Once it's dry, oil your valves (again...remember a little goes a long way), grease the slides, put it back together and cross your fingers.

HELP! The bath didn't help either,

and that pesky valve is still stuck and the recital is tonight! Well...the good news is that now you know how to wash the instrument. The bad news is that you get to do it again.

It's easier the second time, though.

Time to try lapping the valve.

Relax...it's not as scary as it sounds. Again, start simple. Go back and take the valves apart the same way you did when you washed them, and wash the trouble valve again. Once more, wipe the valve with a lint-free cloth only this time, instead of oiling it spread a tiny bit of toothpaste (Brasso works, too -- and you can purchase lapping compound at many shops that deal in musical instruments) around the bottom of the valve and then replace it in the chamber and begin to work the valve up and down.

What you're doing is gently scrubbing both the valve and the chamber. As you work the valve, you should feel it begin to move more smoothly and, after about ten minutes, remove the valve again, wash it, and the rest of the instrument thoroughly (you have to get all traces of the toothpaste out -- on the plus side, now it smells minty-fresh), following the same procedure we outlined above.

Oil and reassemble the instrument and give it a try. You valve should be working like a charm.

If not, you might want to try lapping again...but a word of caution:

  • never force the valve; you could end up doing serious damage.
  • make sure you get the valves lined up correctly.
  • don't overdo the oil. Remember a little goes a long way and it's a lot easier to add another drop or two than it is to take apart the trumpet and wash it again.

don't over-oil or you risk being right back where you started from.

When all else fails..

and it's still sticking...it might be time to visit your repair shop.

Comments

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    • profile image

      James Moopy 

      2 years ago

      I found that it worked on my Euphonium just as well!

    • profile image

      Carlos Goyeneche 

      2 years ago

      Great tips! Thanks!

    • profile image

      Tyguybeach 

      3 years ago

      Did your lapping instructions with toothpaste on trumpet didn't work first time so I bathed and tried again and it was much better. Thanks for the tip

    • abetterwaytolive profile image

      Casey Johnson 

      5 years ago from Sanger, Texas

      This is very useful. A lot of people just expect valve oil to do the job, but it just makes them crazy because it keeps sticking! You really have to get in there and clean it all out. It is not the most fun job in the world...but can be if you enjoy bath time.

    • profile image

      teddy 

      6 years ago

      yamaha walves always sticks its very common problem the 4335 series is terribel get ride of the junk

    • profile image

      Michael 

      6 years ago

      Actually your lapping technique ins totally wrong. Lapping is not a vertical or straight line or polishing technique but rather a spiral process. What you are doing is reducing the diameter of the valve. What you want to do is very light score the valve in a cylinderical direction. This is such a minor process it does not reduce the diameter but does provide for a surface that the oil can adhere to create a film on the valve. The process is best left to a professional. If you valves are "nice and shiny" that is a bad thing. They should have a matte like finish. Save the brasso for your bugle.

    • profile image

      Thumper 

      6 years ago

      If all else fails...take up the flute" :-)

    • profile image

      Mildred 

      6 years ago

      What can i do if i dropped it and the valve got stuck?

    • profile image

      tshib 

      6 years ago

      thanks a bunch, worked great on my tuba

    • profile image

      GEEEMBEE 

      7 years ago

      Well shouldn't we be happy that it's not our AR-15 with a stuck something now that would be bad news Charlie brown!!!

    • profile image

      JJ 

      7 years ago

      I just picked up my baritone after almost a month and the values won't even come out! What should I do?

    • profile image

      Guthrie 

      7 years ago

      I keep getting mixed opinions on the brasso. Some people freak out over it, while others say it works like a charm. And if it doesn't work, then what do i say to the band director? :P

    • profile image

      An Egyptian Trumpeter 

      7 years ago

      @David, one of my valves wouldn't come out either, so I used a plier (lock and rotate gently). If it doesn't work with a gentle squeeze then stop, and look for another solution elsewhere.

    • profile image

      Danielle 

      7 years ago

      Omg, I have a baritone/euphonium and I have a concert tommorow and this worked! I'm so relieved!

    • profile image

      david 

      7 years ago

      all three valves are stuck, haven't touched trumpet in a month, living up in college, work on weekends, i just don't have the time to play. I was planning on going to a rehershal to notice my valves are frozen, wont go down, cant take them out. Any solutions?, if not i guess im going to take it to the shop. Thank you

    • profile image

      trumpet-o 

      8 years ago

      Help! my trumpet's valve is slow coming up!!! HELP! i've got a big concert tommorrow! suggstions???

    • profile image

      Ben  

      8 years ago

      Shoot. Even lapping didn't help. I actually have a baritone, but I figured the the valve issue would be similar with trumpets. But it's still stuck after hours of cleaning! And I have a recital tomorrow! Anyways, thanks for your article. You seem like a very helpful person.

    • profile image

      ColieMarie 

      8 years ago

      thx i just borrowed a trupet from a friend and the 1st valve was stuck :)

    • profile image

      Nick 

      8 years ago

      I just figured out that the problem with my slow (not stuck) slides was that a little of felt was roughly cut, and was tight around the valve. After re-making it, my trumpetworked a lot better.

    • profile image

      trumpetbuddie 

      9 years ago

      well, i now know a good way if its stuck, but see my third valve isn't stuck, but its slow coming up!

      suggestions?

    • profile image

      2254 

      9 years ago

      My valve won't even come out actualy two are stuck. time to go to the repair shop

    • profile image

      BT 

      9 years ago

      Thanks for the article, I have a new horn with a sticking 1st valve. Sending back is a pain, so I will try this. I thought about emery cloth, but am afraid to make an asymmetrical valve. This is exactly the answer.

      Thank you.

    • profile image

      zee 

      9 years ago

      amazing!

    • elisabeth reid profile imageAUTHOR

      elisabeth reid 

      10 years ago from Colorado

      Hooray!!!

      I'm glad this was helpful!

    • profile image

      Coop 

      10 years ago

      Absolute genius! My son plays the trumpet, and valve #2 got stuck good and proper. Even after we got the valve out, it would *not* go back in. I found this article, and tried lapping the valve with Brasso. Lo and behold, it worked! THANK YOU!

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